Economics, concepts, language and the progress of science
Update: thanks to Calgacus (comments), we have a link to the 1913 book by Pigou – which happens to be another book than the 1933 Theory of Unemployment book criticized by Keynes
After, say, 1700 an increasing share of the population became dependent on wage labour – an could, hence, become unemployed. Despite Über and the like this process still seems to continue. Economics as a science adapted – but this took time. A lot of time (and dare I say that neoclassical macro models still deny its existence…). Peter Rodenburg about this:
The word ‘unemployment’ is now widely used both in research and in everyday language. Although one might expect it to be an old term, it is in fact a fairly new one. In the Netherlands the term came into use in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It is first mentioned in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1911, while the first theoretical work in economics explicitly devoted to the problem of ‘joblessness’ was (as far as we know) Pigou’s Unemployment in 1913. It may come as a surprise that even in the work of important nineteenth century writers like Marx, who studied and discussed the issue of joblessness extensively – the notion of involuntary unemployment is in fact one of the key concepts in his work – the term itself is absent.
Whereas Marx spoke of a “reserve army of labour”, “surplus population” or “redundant working population”, his contemporaries used terms like “want of employment” or “involuntary idleness” or, which was more often the case, “laziness” or “pauperism” through “want of work”, rather than “unemployment”. So, before unemployment could be quantifi ed at all, not only was a definition needed,
but the very idea of unemployment as a social phenomenon had to be conceived:
unemployment had to be ‘discovered’ before it could be measured systematically ….
It was not easy to conceive the idea of unemployment, which is illustrated by the fact that for many occupations, temporary idleness was considered an accepted part of the job. Therefore separating ‘unemployment’ or ‘underemployment’ from ‘inherent temporary idleness’ was extremely diffi cult, if not impossible. However, because of the serious social consequence of unemployment in the pre-welfare state era, there was an urgent need, most notably for city councils and charitable organisations, to chart unemployment and to develop poverty relief policies.
I cold not find a webversion of the Pigou book but here is a link to an article about it and the reason why Keynes thought its non-monetary analysis was crap (Hey, guys and galls, this is about wagelabour. People work for the money. And last time I checked, money was a monetary phenomenon. Just like prices.).